A Shot at Normalcy

Appears in the August 2021 issue.

As sure as the onset of August inspires the annual school supply pilgrimage, it also marks the ritual rush to pediatricians’ offices to catch up on the latest and greatest back-to-school immunizations. Of course, the most significant recent addition to the inoculation regimen is the COVID-19 vaccine, which was greenlighted for children ages 12 to 15 last spring and may be approved for younger kids sometime this fall. As schools prepare to reopen in a few weeks—in an environment that looks much more like normal than what they left off with in June—many medical professionals are hoping hesitant parents will come around on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine for their eligible children.

“For people who are still wary about how new this vaccine is, I try to remind them that this is probably one of the most thoroughly studied vaccines in history. The scrutiny and clinical standards have really been superb,” says Jennifer Burns, a pediatric infectious disease nurse practitioner at Comer Children’s Hospital, who frequently works with doctors and patients at Edward Hospital in Naperville. “Some people may be waiting for the vaccine to be available in their pediatric provider’s office so they can have more of a discussion with the doctor, and that’s a great opportunity to provide some reassurance and education around it.”

Yet even as the COVID-19 vaccine has understandably received the lion’s share of attention on the immunization front over the past year, Burns stresses that it’s important not to lose sight of the other key vaccines for kids as the school year approaches—including boosters for measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox for young kids, and things like the meningococcal and HPV vaccines for adolescents. And for everyone over 6 months old, Burns offers a reminder that the upcoming fall season will be the time to catch up with another old friend when it becomes available: the tried-and-true flu shot.

“We have not seen influenza for the past two seasons because COVID has been the main circulating virus,” she says, “but as we reduce COVID with wider vaccinations, we’re going to see other infectious diseases take hold again.”

Photo courtesy Comer Children’s Hospital